Give Me a 001

Lynn and Cindy:  Readers – between us, we have a lot of years in middle school libraries!  And that means that we have had to pay attention to that crazy Dewey category 001!  Middle schoolers LOVE books about yetis and the Bermudua Triangle and UFO’s.  It just goes with the territory.  That section of the shelves always looks as if it has been plundered by pirates even though the average date of that section is about 1970.  So we get pretty excited when we find a NEW book that we can add to that poor battered collection.  Of course as good school librarians we always have one eye on the curriculum and we’re happy to report that we have two books today that will thrill kids AND be useful for CCSS.  Read on!

Finding BigfootCindy: I haven’t watched a single episode of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot show, but I bet that many of my middle school students have. Those teens and preteens are going to be thrilled with this companion book, Finding Bigfoot: Everything You Need to Know (Feiwel & Friends 2013). I don’t know about the “everything” part as what we all want to know, once in for all, is do they REALLY exist? But, given that this will be cataloged in the 001s, I’ll not quibble with that. The book argues that new species continue to be discovered (the Giant Panda in 1869 not previously known outside of China, the saola in 1992 in north central Vietnam and the coelacanth, a fish once believed to be extinct and many others). Why not bigfoot? Arguments are listed for the belief in bigfoot, and for the non-believers, reasons are given for the existence to be doubted.

The layout is easy to skim with colorful pages and short text blocks, eyewitness stories of bigfoot spottings, blurry photos of big dark upright shapes in the woods, oversized footprints, and profiles of the many searchers, and some scientists, who seek to find the elusive cryptid. Even Jane Goodall is quoted on the topic. I love the tips on what to say to convince your parents to take you on a bigfoot hunt: “…you’re interested in studying primate evolution.” And what not to say: “Bigfoot poop can be huge.” Recommended equipment for serious hunters and charts and maps for the most likely states where bigfoot might be found are also included. My Michigan is in the top ten and the week that this book arrived our local Grand Haven Tribune carried this article about reports of local bigfoot sightings in Ottawa County! Perhaps I’d better start watching the show so I can go find bigfoot myself…he could be right in my backyard!

Did I mention the page of bigfoot related movies (Harry and the Hendersons, anyone?) or bigfoot jokes (What sport is bigfoot best at? Tracks-in-field. HAHAHA). For readers who don’t think this book includes “everything,” additional websites and books are suggested, including Kelly Milner Halls’ In Search of Sasquatch that covered much of this territory first for middle schoolers. Make sure you have both. Your collection of bigfoot books is never BIG enough.

AlienLynn David Aguilar, scientist and space artist, brings us a wonderful new speculative book that is sure to attract young readers.  It is firmly based in careful science which makes this fun book especially valuable.  Aguilar is director of science information at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics among other distinctions and he asked himself what could life actually look like on 8 exoworlds, each modeled on real planet discoveries.  Aguilar consulted extensively with Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger, exobiology expert at the Max Planck Institute and other experts to narrow the parameters of these 8 worlds and did extensive research.  What would the gravity, orbiting conditions, weather, temperature and other important characteristics be for these worlds?

Aguilar created intricate science-based models in his studio and then used digital photographic techniques to add skin textures, colors, eyes and other characteristics.  Next he painted digital backgrounds and added the aliens to them for the final steps in the creation of the pages for the book.  The result is a treat for the eyes and mind and an intriguing challenge for young imaginations.

“Alien Space Scouts Wanted!” are the opening words.  Aguilar lays out the mission – “Use your science-based imaginations to help investigate exoplanets.”  Well, who could possibly resist that?  First are some pages explaining  what types of planets could support life, what those conditions might be and how we can find them.  Then eight exoworlds are introduced and Aguilar’s imagined life forms both explained and portrayed.  Each world is rendered in gorgeous paintings and the aliens are fabulous – and all solidly based on physical and biological science.

This book is SO much fun!  I loved reading about each and every world and I wasn’t alone.  The older members of the focus group were fascinated by this book and examined each page minutely and it has generated some wonderful discussions and drawings.  The backmatter is equally wonderful including 4 pages on How to Build Your Own Alien and I know that will soon happen at our house.  Aguilar also provides extensive resources, a glossary and an excellent index.  Some may quibble that this book would fit better in the 500 or 600′s but wherever you put it, it is sure to attract lots of readers!

Common Core connections:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.8 Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.

Ask students to write a short essay after reading Finding Bigfoot on whether or not they think such a creature exists.  Cite textual evidence, distinguishing between facts, reasoned judgments and speculation in the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

On pages 14 and 15, Aguilar describes the “earth-like conditions that have sustained life on our planet.  Ask students to select one of the conditions and imagine a different type of life form that might have evolved here.  Describe the life form and explain why the physical characteristics might have developed.

nonfiction-mondayVisit the Jean Little Library to see other wonderful Nonfiction Monday suggestions.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees.

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